Like a bride, “Fire Island” has something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue. What’s old is the most durable of movie storylines, the romantic comedy. Borrowed: the inspiration for the storyline, the ur-narrative of the romantic comedy, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Something new: populating the story of attraction, misunderstandings, vulnerability, and romance with all gay characters, in the title resort, famously a favorite of gay men since the 1920s. And something blue: it is definitely rated R.
In an interview, director Andrew Ahn and actor Nick Adams, who plays a character based on Austen’s Miss Bingley, talked about the specifics of the setting and the universal themes of friendship, love, and chosen families.
Nick, you saw the film for the first time last night in an audience that was mostly gay men who were wildly enthusiastic. How did that feel?
NICK ADAMS: It was just so joyful and electric and I was so happy and emotional the entire time to see all of the work paying off in such a beautiful way. We made it with this audience in mind, and to see them receive it like that was the biggest gift. I'm so happy I got to experience that energy last night.
The movie has a lot to say about chosen families. Why is that is important?
ANDREW AHN: I think for so many queer people coming out to our families it has been a long process, especially in our youth. Maybe we didn't receive the support that we were looking for. And so, we had to find it with friends, with other LGBTQ people. [Screenwriter and star] Joel Kim Booster talks about how he has a really wonderful relationship with his family but they don't know about the movie. They're probably not going to see the movie ever. And so, it's really about getting to make it and experience it with other queer people with his friends that it's going to be really gratifying for him.
And yet, the film also is very frank in its loving way about the social divisions and the sense of not fitting in even within that community.
AA: There's still racism and classism within the queer community. We haven't grappled with that in society. It still filters into the LGBTQ community, too. We didn't want to shy away from that in the film because it's a part of our experience. Especially as queer Asian Americans there are nuances that Joel and I wanted to articulate in this film. We still wanted to create something that had a positive message. And I think that always going back to friendship community, finding the support that you want from those that love you for who you are. That to me was our North Star.
Do you have a favorite rom-com and what is it that makes the rom-com such an enduring genre?
NA: There's something about the accessibility of comedy that's such a universal thing that people gravitate towards. I think comedy is necessary for society to be able to laugh and have a good time and escape from our troubles or from our problems. And I think that's what I love most about comedy but also for it to comment on society and on our troubles and infuse it with a bit of humor. I think that's the only way to really navigate life. And my favorite rom-com is “Fire Island.” That's my favorite rom-com I've ever seen.
AA: There's something so special about the rom-com. Love and romance is inherently funny. We are such fools in love. I was so excited to do this, especially having Joel Kim Booster and Bowen Yang at the center of it.
One of my favorite movies is Ang Lee's “The Wedding Banquet.” I remember watching that as an eight-year-old. My parents rented it from the Blockbuster Video because they said, “Oh, this is the movie about Asian people that white people are watching. Let's see what it's about.” And they didn't know that it was queer. For me as a nascent queer boy, it was mind-blowing to watch. It was a big inspiration for this movie. I love “Pretty Woman.” I can't get enough of Julia Roberts and Richard Gere. I think I also watched that way too young. But I love a good shopping montage.
Who doesn't? Speaking of romantic comedies let's go to the mother lode. I think I know Pride and Prejudice by heart. And I love the way that you paid tribute to it and had some great variations on it as well. What is it about that story in particular?
AA: I think what Jane Austen observed in Regency-era society is still so relevant today. There's something very human about her observations. We as people make a lot of assumptions about people in other classes that are different from us. And I think if we let our guards down, we'll really start to understand what actually brings us together. That makes so much sense when talking about love—you have to let someone in to get to know what makes them like you. It was such a brilliant idea from Joel Kim Booster to do an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice on Fire Island. He's joked about how at the beginning it was a threat. He was telling people, “I'm gonna do this,” and then it slowly became a reality. I loved being able to read the script the first time and just map out like, oh, that's Mr. Wickham and Charlie is Bingley. I had a lot of fun with that.
Nick, you introduced the film last night by telling us we might not be too fond of your character. What are the challenges of creating a less likable character in a comedy?
NA: Cooper is a delicious villain. He's an antagonistic, vain, really superficial guy that is one of the social gatekeepers of Fire Island and helps to represent the classism that exists in that microcosm. And, as Andrew was discussing, the lack of straight people allows us to then oppress each other. That's where Cooper comes in. I looked at it from—we know that person. No matter whether you're gay or straight we know who that person that needs to feel better than or above someone else to combat their insecurities. And so, I took it from a place of he's obsessed with everything superficial because he is very self-loathing and really has no self-esteem. His existence is dependent upon the gaze of others and is contingent upon feeling better than them to make himself feel better. He has to have the best parties, he has to be dressed the best. And when someone comes in from what he considers to be of a lower caliber class than him and they are succeeding more than him in either a love connection or romance, he tries to meddle in any of their pursuits and sabotage. It was a lot of fun to play a mean guy.
What was your favorite item your character wore that really showed who he was?
NA: Well, there's a scene at my house where I'm at the top of this grand staircase wearing a Versace robe, Versace underwear and slides, and a Christian Dior choker that I wear the entire time. And I feel like that really sums up Cooper's energy. Even when he's just lounging in the house, he's in the most expensive designer clothing.
AA: That's amazing. I will say our costume designer David Tabbert had this really wonderful idea with Nick's character, where he said we should do designer head to toe, each look because that's just what this character would do. He'd go to the store and just buy a head-to-toe look. And I love that idea. And it made for just fun, subtle comedy. It's like, “Oh, you got someone who's always matching.” And then I loved Nick's hair and makeup in the film. At first, we had discussed that Cooper should always look perfect and matte as if he doesn't have sweat glands anymore because of Botox. But then we decided because it was so hot when we were shooting it was just too hard to control. It's like, let's lean into the shine. He's slick the entire time. And he's so beautifully shiny through the movie. He's like a seal. I love it.
I thought the music cues in the movie were exceptionally well done.
AA: We worked with a really wonderful team over at Searchlight. Our music supervisors were just so excited for this film because music is such a big part of the island experience and a big part of queer culture. We had really wonderful Asian American and queer artists. Our cover of Britney Spears’ “Sometimes” is done by a wonderful queer group, called Muna. We have a queer Asian American artist named Wills that has a song that plays during T. It's just really special to be able to showcase the range of talent within the LGBTQ community. And then we had a really wonderful composer Jay Wadley, who I worked with on my last movie “Driveways,” who is just such an emotional composer. He really wears his heart on his sleeve. And he just found the sound of these relationships. We had a theme for Will and Noah, we had a theme for Howie and Noah. And I think it really adds to how the audience tracks the relationships.
What makes this a movie for everybody? (Well, everyone old enough to see R-rated movies.)
NA: It's a celebration of friendship and there's joy at the heart of it. And again, chosen family. I think the connection of humans and how we support each other and we lift each other up and we can just show up as we are for certain people in our lives. I think that's accessible to anyone and anyone who wants to gravitate towards that energy that they see in other people. And I think that's really what we celebrate in this film is that when you find those special people in your life to be there for them, to take care of them and to let them find their way on their own without telling them how to live their lives.
AA: When I first signed on to the project it had been a year into the pandemic and I hadn't seen my friends or gone out to a club to dance and drink and be stupid for a long time. I saw in Joel Kim Booster’s script everything that was missing in my life. I think the pandemic has really shown us how important it is that we cultivate relationships, that we support each other. I understand that it's a really difficult hard world to live in right now. And sometimes we need to cloister and shelter ourselves. But I hope that people understand that part of self-care is also community care and that we take care of each other and support each other. This film really is a celebration of friendship and a reminder that we should all go on vacation with our friends.
"Fire Island" will be available on Hulu on June 3rd.